‘No Question Of Changing NOTA To Suit Vijay Deverakonda’s Image After Geetha Govindam’: Anand Shankar

The director talks about why his new film is relevant to both Tamil and Telugu audiences, whether he reads reviews and why comparisons to Hollywood are unfair
‘No Question Of Changing NOTA To Suit Vijay Deverakonda’s Image After Geetha Govindam’: Anand Shankar

Vijay Deverakonda is currently South Indian cinema's most popular hero, thanks to his back-to-back blockbusters Arjun Reddy and Geetha Govindam. He has not only proven himself to be a capable actor, but also shown that he has a large pull at the box-office. Vijay will be seen next in NOTA, a Tamil-Telugu bilingual directed by Anand Shankar, whose earlier films are Arima Nambi and Irumugan. The film, a political drama, is slated to release in early October. The recently launched trailer hints at Vijay playing a dashing young chief minister whose unorthodox methods make for intriguing drama. Director Anand tells us more about the film:

"After Arjun Reddy, many directors took note of Vijay and were inspired to come up with subjects exclusively for him. It was a remarkable film and a game-changer. A lot of people express nothing but positivity when I say that I'm doing a film with him now. He didn't let the Tamil language become a barrier for him and performed beautifully. He prepared his Tamil lines in advance and put his practice to good use on the spot. He is a natural actor!"

The director added that the film also stars Sathyaraj and Nassar, who are extremely popular with the Tamil and Telugu audiences. "Mehreen has delivered hits in Telugu and has also earned a name as a good actor. We needed a young actress like her and not a seasoned heroine. She was a good fit for our film's needs."

He also spoke about how he made sure nothing about NOTA would feel alien to either the Tamil or the Telugu audience, saying that the story would be relevant to both. "We didn't require any story tweaks. We've shot the film predominantly in Chennai and Hyderabad, based on the requirements of the script. I had all these good actors who were also single-take artists. It was a fast and comfortable shooting experience, despite the strike which robbed us of a couple of months' work," he said.

Anand firmly denied the recent Tollywood gossip that changes were made to the film, following Geetha Govindam's blockbuster success.

"We went on the shooting floor only after the script was locked. There was no question of changing the content to suit the hero's image. But, it feels good to have your hero in prime form after such a big success. NOTA is keenly awaited and its reach will definitely be widened thanks to Geetha Govindam. In NOTA, his character isn't portrayed as a spotless politician right away. Being young, he is irresponsible and goes through a transformation over the course of the film. We haven't tried to safely play with his Arjun Reddy image."

Anand also spoke passionately about wanting to be a versatile director and not get slotted in the same space. He added that NOTA was vastly different from his two earlier films. "I wanted a different flavour and didn't want to repeat any pattern or style from my earlier films. I don't want to be stereotyped and want to keep exploring my space."

I take valid constructive feedback from reviews and look to do better the next time. There is no point in getting bogged down by criticism

He also spoke about the importance of collaboration, saying NOTA was driven by a young team. "As a director, I can't pull off a film alone, it is a collaborative effort involving the cinematographer, editor and composer. All of them play a part in giving any film a unique colour, perspective and feel. We wanted to go for younger technicians this time, considering the market dynamics, and booked Aruvi editor Raymond Derrick Crasta, cinematographer Santhana Krishnan and composer Sam CS. I don't always want to go for big technicians and stars. If NOTA clicks, producers would be more willing to trust me to deliver a successful film irrespective of the actors and technicians involved."

Anand has associated with established producers (Kalaipuli Thanu, Shibu Thameens and Gnanavel Raja) for all his films so far. He explains his unique working dynamic with them. "I'm not someone who focuses on just the story and the creative side. I ensure that my films stay within a budget and are given a proper release date. This is as important as the story. Good films can be killed by production delays, improper budgeting and bad release planning. My producers should share my passion. If films are planned properly with the right market analysis and get the right reception from the audience, they'll definitely emerge successful."

He cites the example of Irumugan, saying that the shoot began in January 2016, with the film releasing just eight months later. "We wrapped the shooting in just 85 days, which is really fast for a film of that scale. The movie emerged successful and served the purpose for which it was made."

Prior to NOTA, there were rumours that Anand would reunite with Chiyaan Vikram for the Tamil remake of Don't Breathe. What's the status of their next collaboration? "I will surely collaborate with Vikram sir again, but not in the immediate future. We've met and had discussions a few times. Our next will definitely be something new and even more performance-oriented for him compared to Irumugan."

How does Anand react to film reviews? Is he someone who doesn't pay heed to them or does he pay close attention? "I take valid constructive feedback from reviews and look to do better the next time. There is no point in getting bogged down by criticism. It's important that my films are liked by critics and also have a promising box-office report card."

He also spoke about why he feels that reviews for ambitious Tamil films in the sci-fi, spy thriller, superhero space are adversely impacted by comparisons with Hollywood. "We definitely don't have the budgets that they have. Just because we are exposed to the films of Christopher Nolan, doesn't mean that our films should be compared to his works. On the other hand, a mass masala entertainer or a rural film is seen and reviewed for what it's worth. Comparisons don't come into the equation there."

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